Rumi’s old ‘hood and ancient Anatolia in Konya

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Middle East » Turkey » Central Anatolia » Konya
June 24th 2012
Published: July 2nd 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

We woke at 5.30am and organised our packs for the nine hour bus trip from Kas to Konya. We headed up to the hotel’s breakfast terrace at 7am to enjoy the panoramic view of Kas while we ate. We picked up our laundry (literally – I had to crawl out on a high shingled roof to recover my socks and undies that had blown off a balcony railing during the night) and then jumped into a minibus for the first stage of our travel day – a three and a half hour trip to Antalya.

As we drove along the southern Turkish coastline, I couldn’t help but compare the stark, mountainous landscape to the rugged west coast of Tasmania. We alternated between ascending high coastal cliffs and descending to sea level as we made our way east. We arrived at Antalya’s bus terminal at 11.30am. It was hot and crowded. We jammed our packs into a small terminal cafe (Simit Ci), ordered ayran (yoghurt drink) and cay (Turkish tea) and checked our email on the free wifi. This was not an appealing city. The ten or so kilometres of coastline into the city were crammed with manicured beaches and colour-coded deck chairs lined up in regimented order. Unchecked tourism was rife here, and the sooner we left the better. We had an hour in the terminal, so we hydrated and rested in our safe little terminal cafe.

We boarded a comfortable bus at 1pm and headed off on our five and a half hour trip to Konya. We enjoyed tea, cakes and snacks from the friendly attendant along the way. We began a steep ascent of the Turkish Mountains in the southern Mediterranean region as we made our way north-east towards Konya. We were winding our way upwards towards the central Anatolian plateau, and the scenery was breathtaking. The driver was focused on getting to Konya as soon as possible, so we were traversing some seriously high stretches of road at a cracking pace. Add to this the Turkish fondness for three lane highways (where the central lane is shared for overtaking) and you have the perfect recipe for hair-raising travel!

The stark grey-white rocky landscape was dotted with pine trees and little else. As we climbed, the pine trees gradually disappeared and the mountains began to resemble a moonscape. We eventually levelled out on a plateau and stopped for a toilet break. A cold ayran (yoghurt drink) really hit the spot, even though the temperature had dropped to a comfortable 27 degrees. This seemed to be a fairly industrial part of Turkey, and it was interesting to see families sitting on the side of the road, boiling tea over small fires and chatting as traffic sped past them only metres away. The landscape had become green and flat, although the ever-present mountains always lined the horizon.

A call to prayer echoed throughout the plateau during our 20 minute rest. A small mosque backed onto our remote bus terminal, and the isolation of this place was multiplied a thousand fold when the Imam’s calling voice (from the minuet speakers) dispersed in echo into the distant mountains.

We finally arrived in Konya at 6.30pm. We jumped into a minibus and headed straight to our hotel. We arrived at 7pm, drank a complimentary and welcome fizzy mandarin juice, checked in, showered and then headed out for dinner at 8pm. We dined in a local doner kebap place, sharing a bamya (okra soup) and etliekmek (pide with topping). It was fantastic! We finished with complimentary cay and then headed out on an orientation tour of the city. I harboured a sense of unease as I walked around Konya at night, and I had not experienced this in any other place in Turkey. It is difficult to say why. Families were walking the street into the late evening, so it should have had a communal atmosphere. Yet there was an intimidating element present in the streets – it was the first time I had not felt welcome in a Turkish city. There was almost a bogan element here. For the first time since we had been in Turkey we saw police pulling over cars and questioning young men in the streets. This surprised us, as Konya is known throughout Turkey for its religious nature (it is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims who come to pay homage to Mevlana).

After walking the streets for about an hour, our guide left us with a sentence from Mevlana about education: ‘A candle loses nothing if it is used to light another’. After nine hours sitting on a bus, we were exhausted, so we retreated to our hotel (Otel Mevlana) at 10.30pm, grabbed a few complimentary bottles of fizzy mineral water and crashed.

We woke at 5.30am, caught up on our trip notes and headed down to breakfast at 7.30am. We knew we had a lazy 8.15am start, so we pottered in our room and organised our packs for the three hour drive to Cappadocia in the afternoon. We walked to a local felt shop to see how felt is made, which includes the distinctive headwear of the whirling dervish.

We then walked to the Mevlana Museum. This was a fascinating place, and it was made even more so by the fascination some local women had with Ren. They wanted their photo taken with her, and they wanted their daughters to have their photo taken with her (much to the embarrassment of the teenage daughters). We picked up a CD of atmospheric Sufi music and a small book of Mevlana’s aphorisms before heading to a local mosque where a group of about ten boys (and no girls) were having a lesson of some description. They were sitting in long pews and watching a video, which the teacher would occasionally stop and question them about. They were very attentive to their lesson and very curious of us walking around their mosque. We headed back to the hotel, grabbed our bags (and a complimentary glass of coke) and jumped into a minibus at 1pm for the three hour trip to Cappadocia.

We started with a lovely breakfast in Kas and then boarded an early morning minibus for a three hour drive to Antalya. We travelled inland over the Toros Mountain range and across the plains of the Anatolian steppe to Konya in Central Anatolia. The first part of the journey was on curvy coastal road, but this gave way to farms and greenhouses full of tomatoes and cucumbers. Antalya seems to be the Gold Coast of Turkey, with a sea of apartment blocks and about 20 minutes of a pebbled beach with deck chairs four deep. However the main bus station was quite nice with clean toilets. We settled into a simitci (break/pastry shop) and had borek and cay (Turkish tea) for lunch and used their free wifi. The six hour bus ride to Konya went surprisingly quickly, with the rugged and beautiful mountains, mountain goats and pine forests keeping us very interested. The bus service was brilliant once again, as we were very spoilt with cakes, tea, coffee and cold drinks periodically offered during the trip.

The outskirts of Konya was heavily industrial (quite gritty and grimy), so it wasn’t a very nice introduction to the town. However, it was quite cute when the bus had to slow down for a cow who lazily crossed the road. Konya is intimately connected with the Whirling Dervish sect of Islam – Celaleddin Rumi died here in 1273, and his shrine has become a place of pilgrimage; and probably because of this, Konya was the most traditional town we’d seen so far.

We were understandably tired when we reached Otel Mevlana in Konya. Of all the hotels we’d stayed in, this was by far the most basic – it was dirty and falling apart. That night we had dinner of bamya (okra soup) and etliekmek (local pide) at Dolma Kebap. These two local dishes came highly recommended and were as delicious as they were filling. We then went for a walk to stretch our legs and get a quick orientation for the next day. We walked along the main street of Mevlana Cadessi and around Alaaddin Tepesi Hill. Konya is full of good examples of Seljuk architecture, mostly recognised for its severe geometrically shaped buildings. However, unlike Ottoman architecture, the building walls are purposely very plain and the only adornment is a very highly decorative and elaborate main doorway.

It was a Sunday night and there were many families and couples out walking and eating ice creams in the cool night air. However, there were also groups of young men milling about, which made a few of us uncomfortable. I wouldn’t go as far as calling them gangs, but the looks we received weren’t exactly friendly and a few times we felt shadowed by a group, which was unsettling. I certainly would not have left my hotel room after dark if I had been travelling alone in Konya.

After a pretty basic breakfast, we walked back to Mevlana Caddesi and headed down a small side street to the Ikonium Atolye Felt Workshop where the owner was waiting for us. Felting has a long history in Turkey and especially in Konya, as the iconic Dervish fez is made of felt. This particular workshop produces fezs for sema (Whirling Dervishes) without any seams or edges. The demonstration showed how they made their beautiful designs for wall hangings, clothing and other art pieces – explaining each step of the design where pieces of wool soaked in soapy water are placed on a background of wool, silk, cotton or a mixture of materials. The ‘felting’ process is started by rolling the piece and agitating the materials together so the fibres of one bind with the fibres of the other material. Felt-making is a vanishing art in Turkey and it is hoped that tourist interest in the art will revive the industry. After seeing the felt-making process, I have so much more respect for the work that has gone into it (but I’m still not a fan of felt).

We then walked to the Mevlana Museum and Mausoleum (dedicated to Sufi mystic Mevlana Rumi). When Rumi died his teachings became the basis of the Mevlevi Order of the Sufi sect. His doctrine – the Masnavi advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine, and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of sema developed into a ritual form. In the Mevlevi tradition, sema represents a mystical journey where the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at God. It is a sort of spiritual evolution of the human being.

With the foundation of the secular Republic of Turkey in the 1920s, Kemal Ataturk removed religion from public policy and all the dervish lodges were closed (Istanbul had more than 250 lodges). However, over time they were allowed to reopen as museums. In 2005, UNESCO declared the ‘The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony’ of Turkey as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The 13th century Mevlana Museum and Mausoleum consists of a mosque, dance hall, dervish living quarters, school and many tombs of past leaders of the Mevlevi Order. It apparently continues to draw large numbers of pilgrims from all parts of the Muslim and non-Muslim world. It was an intriguing place to visit, however given this is such an intense place of pilgrimage, I found it ironic that they chose the following epitaph to be inscribed on Rumi’s tomb – ‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men’. I haven’t been to many places of pilgrimage, so I was a little taken aback by the level of intense adoration displayed here. The crowds were somewhat controlled, but it was impossible to look at everything with crowds of people pushing you on through the rooms.

As usual we exited through the gift shop, and we decided to buy a CD of sema music and a little booklet on Rumi’s teachings. Unfortunately, bad timing didn’t allow us to witness a sema here, which made me appreciate the sema we attended in Bursa all the more.

We walked back to the hotel through the local market that was very lively and friendly, and held no trace of the big groups of young men we witnessed the night before. We happened to pass the Aziziye Mosque near our hotel that was unusually gothic in style, so we walked in and had a look at the beautifully architecture and decor. It was also being used as a school for about 15 little boys; we watched for a little while but realised we were distracting the boys, so we left.

The day went by very quickly, and before we knew it was time to leave Konya. We grabbed some ayran (yoghurt drink) and sour cherry juice from the mini supermarket and boarded a minibus to Goreme in Cappadocia!


3rd July 2012

Still Interested In The Sufis
But the crowd's on their feet as ballooning over the karst (?) approaches.
6th July 2012

Re: Still Interested In The Sufis
Hey KD, no ballooning for us; but goreme was a fantastic place, blog will be uploaded soon. been a bit slack after we've got home :)
20th December 2014

Accomplished writers
Always love the word pictures you paint. I feel like I'm right there on the bus with you seeing what you see. I love sharing meals with you. The students look so attentive.
21st December 2014

Re: Accomplished writers
Aw thanks, you are so kind! I think I will make myself a cup of tea and re-read this blog too :)

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